Comparo: 2012 Lexus RX 350 vs. 2012 Cadillac SRX (Review)

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Another mighty Wildsau showdown for you this week, friends.

This time around, two heavy hitters drop the gloves and square off. We’ve got two mid-size cross-overs and they are bringin’ it.

In the right corner, we have the 2012 Lexus RX 350, a venerable best-seller since 1998, sitting atop what is basically a Camry platform. It has evolved through the years, but remains easily recognizable, and has a stellar reputation. It starts at CDN $44,950, but when you start padding it with one of the option packages starting at $5,000 (and going up to $17,000!!!), things quickly get pricey – this one, as tested, was $57,550.

In the left corner, the 2012 Cadillac SRX – a relative newcomer to the game, joining the market in 2004 with the first-generation model which was generally unloved. This is the new one. It starts at CDN $42,160. You can easily jack up the price here as well, and the Premium trim level I was driving rang in at $58,120.

 

Under the Hood

The RX 350 tucks Toyota’s wonderful and ubiquitous 3.5-Litre V-6 under the hood. In this setting, it puts out 275 HP @ 6200 RPM, and 257 lb.ft of torque at 4700 RPM. It cranks this out through a 6-speed automatic transmission, and is rated at a respectable 11.8 L/100 km (20 mpg) in the city and 8.3 L/100 km (28 mpg) on the highway. I averaged 14.5 L/100 km (16.2 mpg) during my time with it.

The SRX’s mill is a 3.6-Litre V-6, similarly mated to a 6-speed automatic. The Caddy puts out 308 HP @ 6800 RPM, and 265 lb.ft at a low 2400 RPM. Fuel economy is rated at 12.7 L/100 km (18.5 mpg) in the city, and 8.3 L/100 km (28 mpg) on the highway. Driving it over the week, I saw an almost identical average of  14.7 L/100 km (16 mpg) .

Advantage: Tie –  in terms of power, fuel economy and even price, these cars are very close – on paper anyway. Both engines are tragically shrouded in Tupperware.

 

Exterior

As noted, the Lexus has evolved through the years, seemingly chiseling away bits and become more sculpted and… swoopier. It hasn’t been without criticism, but I found the lines to be pleasing. The now-familiar shape’s latest iteration has clean lines, smooth flow and is nice to look at although it’s grown a bubble butt. I loved the big handsome 19″ rims, and I found that the RX’s lines did a fantastic job of hiding how big this vehicle is. It doesn’t look big on the road, but this isn’t a small vehicle. The familiarity can be a trump card, or a strike against it, pending on your perspective. People basically don’t take a second look at the RX anymore, but that’s great if you don’t like stares. HID headlights complete the look.

The Cadillac is a different story, coming across as an avant-garde hunchback, throwing its angular styling right in your face. I think it’s a bit of a polarizing design, but I quite liked it. Cadillac is sticking to their guns with its styling, and I’m a fan. I liked the 20″ rims, the chunky integrated exhaust outlets, and vertical LED tail-lights, as well as the jewel-like styling of the headlights – they look great, on or off.

Advantage: Cadillac

 

Interior

Lexus is known for its interiors, and this one is no exception. Everything feels substantial and well-done. The materials are lovely – soft-touch plastics, beautiful leathers, glowing woods.

Extraordinarily comfortable front seats (clearly leaning toward butt-happiness instead of sport), are both heated and cooled and power adjustable, with good side (but poor thigh) bolstering. In front of you sits a bin of excellent, simple gauges, and a nice steering wheel with phone, handsfree, media and info screen controls. The wheel is power-adjustable, and ties into the driver’s seat memory.

The dash is styled with more swoopiness, with lines slashing across your field of vision, and negating what would be a center stack. You’ve got a large screen deeply set into the dash, a media system below that, and a very cramped dual-zone automatic climate control system. Underneath that sits an angled pod for the shift lever and then your center console. I wasn’t a big fan of the dash styling, and as beautiful as it is, I felt the interior came across as a little stodgy and perhaps even a little dated.

The Cadillac’s interior felt equally as luxurious, but significantly more current and modern. That said, it felt dark and moody and I would have appreciated a few more touches of lighter color/materials. Speaking of materials, they are excellent here – soft-touch plastics, nice stitching. Gorgeous leathers clad the comfortable front seats, both of which are heated and cooled and power adjustable. Unfortunately the seats don’t offer nearly enough side or thigh bolstering for sporty driving. The driver’s seat has memory settings as well.

A nicely styled gauge bin sits behind a decent steering wheel, which has cruise, media, phone and handsfree controls and is manually adjustable. The center stack from the top starts with a cool, retractable touch-screen, a classy analog clock and buttons for the media and nab system – lower down are the controls for the dual-zone automatic climate control system.

Advantage: Cadillac – both had beautiful materials, but I preferred the Caddy’s styling and usability

 

Tech/Convenience

Both of these players offer a lot, and I can’t really list it all.

The Lexus’ big screen is nice and clear, but I prefer touch-screens. It’s accessed with a novel mouse-like Remote Touch joystick pad, which took me a while to get used to and is a bit distracting – but it works. A back-up camera displays here, with a nice, wide picture, but unfortunately without any distance markings. There is a small driver information screen, allowing you to see outside temp, an eco gauge, instant and average mileage, average speed and fuel range. You also have a heads-up display which only shows your current speed.

The Lexus sound system, feeding off AM, FM, satellite, CD, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary or USB sources, is absolutely incredible – one of the best I’ve heard.

Overhead, you’ll find a tilt/slide sunroof, and HomeLink garage door openers. The trunk lid can be opened and closed remotely from the dash, the trunk lid itself and the FOB.

The Cadillac’s touchscreen is very clear and easy to read, and easy to navigate. It displays the back-up camera, along with distance markings which move to display your trajectory when you turn the wheel, and it has front and rear distance sensors with audible and visual warnings.

The driver’s information screen is round, located in the middle of the speedometer. It’s very crisp and legible, displaying fuel range, average fuel economy, trip meter, instant and average speed, navigation instructions, a timer, fuel used and vehicle settings.

The Bose sound system sounds very good (but not as good as the Lexus!) and sources from AM, FM, CD, satellite, auxiliary, USB or Bluetooth.

Overhead, you’ve got a huge, panoramic, full-length sunroof – the front section tilts and slides and there’s a full-length power sliding shade. You’ve got HomeLink openers, power adjustable pedals and power folding mirrors. The trunk lid, just like the Lexus, remotely opens and closes from the dash, the key FOB and a button on the trunk lid.

A nifty tech detail – when the car senses rear passengers, it shows little silhouettes of them in the driver’s information screen, and they light up when the seat belts are done up – a great tool for knowing if your kids are buckled in.

Advantage: Cadillac – it fairly bristles with tech and convenience measures, and simply it outshines the Lexus

 

The Drive

Unsurprisingly, the Lexus was very quiet and isolated – that goes for the engine, transmission and the ride. Power was always adequate, and the throttle response was highly satisfying, never leaving you waiting. The transmission is very smooth, and even in the sport or manual modes, I felt it was a bit slow and leaned toward comfortable cruising – it suited this vehicle. The V-6 will give you a growl, but only when stepped on – otherwise it remains almost silent.

The ride is exceptional, which means it’s also softer in the corners – although the handling is competent and never felt sloppy, there’s plenty of body roll and a more luxurious feeling than a sporty feeling. The brakes felt a bit spongy and also a bit grabby at times, but I can report that the emergency braking is spectacular. I was cut off on the freeway, traveling at over 100 km/h. The driver would have driven right into me, had I not slammed on my brakes, and even though I locked up the tires, smoking and squealing, control was never lost or compromised and it’s ability to react so well certainly saved the day, and maybe my life.

Speaking of highway speeds, the Lexus is amazing there – so quiet, it’s almost creepy. Wind, road and engine noise is negligible and this would be a spectacular car for a road trip. Visibility is very good, even with those big rear pillars.

The Cadillac feels fleet of foot, but always left me with a second’s lag before the power came on. Power delivery is smooth, but because of the lag, felt a bit soft from a standing start. That said, it always felt powerful enough. The transmission is very smooth, and will hunt for higher gears as soon as possible – gear changes aren’t particularly fast here either – even in sport mode, shifting down is… let’s call it leisurely. I felt the sport mode was much more noticeable than the Lexus’, tightening up the throttle response and holding shift points noticeably longer.

The ride is firm (firmer than I anticipated by far), but still comfortable. The additional firmness gives the SRX the advantage of reduced body roll and a pretty sporty feel when you throw it into corners. The handling is very nicely controlled, with quick turn-in for a cross-over, and the drive is more fun than the Lexus’. You’re also rewarded with a little bit of feedback, versus the detached numbness of the RX 350.

The Cadillac is also very quiet – wind and road noise are non-issues, even at highway speeds. As with the competition, the V-6 remains almost silent unless you step on it. Speaking of highway speeds, the Caddy was very comfortable there and felt extremely stable and connected. A last note – as smooth as it is, it’s not Lexus RX smooth.

Outward visibility was pretty good, but shoulder checking is hampered significantly by the size and angle of the rear pillars.

Advantage: Lexus – I loved how the engine, transmission and suspension interact, and although I would prefer sportier handling, it was ultimately a more satisfying drive

 

Rear Seat

The Lexus surprises with the unusual ability to comfortably seat three adults back there. You’ve got 3 seats, 3 seat belts and 3 headrests, and you could use all of them – head, foot and legroom are generous – to the point of being exceptional. The seats are very comfortable, and slide forward or back, as well as recline.

You’ve got nice door bins, 2 seatback map pockets, and the middle seatback folds down to give you two cupholders, a padded armrest and a storage bin underneath. If you’re putting children’s seats in, you have two LATCH connectors and plenty of room.

Surprisingly, that’s about all you get back there – in terms of luxury, or comfort, it’s quite spartan. No heated seats, no temperature controls, no media controls, no power outlets – a bit shocking, since vehicles at half the price include some of those things.

The Cadillac’s rear seat isn’t as roomy, but you’ve still got good head, leg and foot room – it actually feels even roomier than it is, thanks to the airiness that the huge sunroof brings. There are 3 seats, 3 seat belts and 3 headrests, but only 2 adults will be comfortable for longer drives back there. The reclining seats are very comfortable.

There are two levels of door bins, 2 seatback map pockets, and the middle seatback folds down to provide two cupholders, an armrest and a storage bin. Space for children is excellent, and you get 2 LATCH connectors.

The SRX sets itself apart in terms of luxury and tech – at the back of the center console you’ll find an easily-operated panel with controls for a separate climate zone, the media system (along with two headphone plugs), seat heaters, adjustable vents, a 12V plug and a roomy pop-out bin. Fantastic!

Advantage: Cadillac – I enjoyed the space the Lexus provided, but would much prefer to spend my time in the Cadillac thanks to the additional features

 

Storage

The RX350 offers less storage compartments than I expected. You’ve got great flip-out door bins allowing for easy access, a dual cupholder with a lid on the console, and another strange flip-down cupholder on the left side of the dash. The center console bin is carpeted and has auxiliary, USB and 12V plugs inside and there’s a big glove compartment – necessary for the encyclopedia-sized owner’s manual. It took me a while to find it, but there is a novel storage area UNDER the center console – it’s open and provides a roughly one square-foot space to put bottles, or anything else, as well as a 12V plug – and keep things out of the way. Good thinking!

The trunk has a comfortably high load floor, and provides 40 cubic feet of volume. It’s covered with a removable, retractable tonneau cover, and includes a cargo net and hidden storage bins under the floor. There are handy levers on either side, which quickly release and fold the rear seats down, into a 60/40 split, much like the Honda CR-V I recently reviewed.

The SRX has upper and lower door bins, a pop-out bin in the center stack (with an actual, honest-to-goodness cigarette lighter), 2 upholders, and a dual-level bin under the armrest – which houses the USB, auxiliary and 12V plugs.

The cargo space is smaller than I anticipated, providing only 29.2 cubic feet of volume with the rear seats up. The load floor was also quite high, and I think that the angles of the rear window, etc negatively affect the size of the space back there. The space is covered by a removable, retractable tonneau cover as well, and there are tie-down hooks, and underfloor storage spaces too.

I absolutely loved the adjustable cargo rail – the end mounts sit in a track that loops around the perimeter of the trunk and can be slid into any position, moving the rail to virtually any position or angle as well. Brilliant, and truly functional. Of course, it can be removed too. I wasn’t fond of the long lift-over depth – I have a feeling you could easily get your pants dirty when lifting things into the depths of the trunk space.

Advantage: Tie – I definitely appreciated the extra cargo space in the RX350, but really enjoyed the additional storage spaces and the cargo rail in the SRX

 

Nitpicks

As noted, I wasn’t a fan of the Lexus dash. Even though there are relatively few buttons, it felt cramped and busy, and it drove me crazy that there is no temperature read-out on the dash – you have to look at the screen on top.

Other Lexus nitpicks revolve around what wasn’t there – it seems odd to have a luxurious vehicle like this without parking distance sensors (as far as I could tell) – power folding mirrors would be nice too, considering how wide this thing is.

The Cadillac has the most retarded dead pedal – I love my dead pedals, and this one was insulting. It’s there, but it’s too narrow and too short for any normal shoe. I’d rather just not have one there.

The back of the SRX’s front seats are hard plastic, which is a surprisingly cheap touch, and also sucks if you’re particularly tall and your knees are pressed against them. Uncomfortable!

 

Details

I just can’t help but reiterate how substantial everything on the Lexus feels – even the doors feel as though they were carved from one piece along with the body, and when they shut, they just become one. It’s very impressive build quality and supports a well-deserved reputation.

The Caddy had some cool and thoughtful stuff going on. I loved the adjustable, dual-height cupholder in the console – very useful! The trunk lid can be opened to maximum height, OR to 3/4 height, in case you’re parked in a low-ceiling parkade. I liked the clear, jewel-like crystal shapes hidden on either side of the speedometer – they flashed a glowing green along with the signal arrow when your turn signal is on.

 

The Verdict

Two great cross-overs. One that felt a little old-school – a model with a long life span, and a very positive reputation and a highly-esteemed company history. One that felt current, modern and fresh – a new model trying to make up for its predecessor’s short-comings, and building on a company that has risen out of the ashes nicely.

Both are great vehicles, and both felt very good and boasted exceptional build quality and materials to match.

I ended up surprising myself with the results after going over my notes, pictures and tallying things up. I give the Lexus RX 350 an 8 out of 10 and the Cadillac SRX an 8.5 out of 10, but they arrived at their score in quite different ways. They were both excellent driving machines, for different reasons. Both envelop the driver and passengers in comfort and luxury, both have good levels of technology (one better), both provide reasonable cargo space (one better), and both would be fantastic vehicles to own. My guess is that the Lexus may prove to be more reliable in the long run, but both felt very well put together.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was quite high for both. She loved the luxurious ride in the Lexus, and how much room it had in the back, and just that it was Lexus. She liked the Caddy quite a lot too, but not as much, and she felt it was a bit rougher off the line.

If you want a soft, luxurious, cushy cross-over, you’ll love the RX. If you want a slightly harder-edged, sporting and techno-laden cross-over, you’ll certainly enjoy the the SRX. Both are awesome in their own way and both would be great vehicles to own.

Of note, every single person I got feedback from on both vehicles preferred the Cadillac, inside and out – and the Cadillac got 100% positive reactions from people, where a number of people were disappointed in the Lexus’ interior – mainly the styling and lack of goodies in the back.

Disclosure:  Vehicles were provided by Lexus and Cadillac.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.

 

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